Photograph by Michael Lebowitz
In 2006 I ran my first official ultra marathon at the Hagg Lake 50k in Forest Grove, Oregon. Like many races all was well for the first half of the race and around the 17 mile mark I begun to push the pace thinking I was going to finish strong, but at the 20 mile mark a major bonk hit and every muscle in my body started to cramp from lack of calories, electrolytes and hydration. I spent the next 11 miles literally rolling around on the side of the trail attempting to get muscles to unlock and stumbling on muddy trails trying to make it to the finish. I could tell I was in really bad shape by the looks of concern from other racers and aid station attendants constantly asking me if I was okay. When I did finally finish at the 5:45 mark in 53rd place my brother and sister in-law were waiting for me. I was shivering and in massive amount of pain, they quickly got a blanket around me fed me some soup and in 30 minutes I was able to pull myself together and with a lot of effort hobble off to the car to go home. I was happy to have finished my first ultra but the pain of the race and the realization that I had really had my ass handed to me from lack of training and experience put a dampener on the whole event. I felt like a world class chump.
That night over dinner which I limped to with muscles and joints that felt like I had missed a payment to a loan shark my brother recounted my finish to the whole family and made special effort to point out all the old men and ladies that had finished before me and how good they looked and how crappy and terrible I looked. The comments cut like a knife, deep down I knew he was just giving me grief like brothers do but the anger was building and I had to hold back from saying something mean in return, I bit my tongue and stared daggers. As I left the next day for the long drive home I had to walk down the three minor steps from my mom's house to the driveway backwards because my legs were so sore. My mom gave me that look that only a mom can, a mix of pity and concern. I can't remember exactly what she said but it was along the lines of, maybe this ultra thing isn't for you and why would you want to do it anyway. I left feeling terrible and with doubt in my own mind and thought maybe they're correct, maybe this ultra racing isn't for me. Weeks later as the muscles healed and my energy returned a new thought entered my mind, screw that, I'll show them and myself and with sweaty shaky hands I signed up for a 50 miler.
Photograph by Michael Lebowitz
My family since has been supportive of my racing, always asking how I did at the last race and how my training is going, my mom still gives me that look of “why” but she seems to realize that I'm not ruining my knees and that I have met a lot of great people and seen cool places because of my racing. At this years Hagg Lake 50k race my brother crewed for me and he was cheering me on telling me to pass the guys in front of me and generally looking like he was having a great time and I ran just that little bit harder trying to show off. No cramps or bonk this year, after finishing the first loop in training mode in 27th place I was able to race the second half of the race and crossed the line in 4:17 for 14th place. As I ate a well deserved cheeseburger later that afternoon at a local burger joint with my brother in Oregon City I couldn't help smile at how things have worked out, glad that I had taken those negative thoughts and comments and turned them into motivation, motivation to try to be a better runner and a better person.